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Chuck Frederick: Phantom phoners afflict other Duluthians, too

Turns out my house is far from the only one in the Northland plagued by the phenomenon of phantom phoners. Last month, I wrote a column about how the telephone in my kitchen, the one that plays "On Wisconsin" whenever we get a call, goes off for ...

Turns out my house is far from the only one in the Northland plagued by the phenomenon of phantom phoners.

Last month, I wrote a column about how the telephone in my kitchen, the one that plays "On Wisconsin" whenever we get a call, goes off for a half ring every night at 11:07 p.m. "On Wisconsin, on Wis --" then nothing. And the other phone in the house remains quiet.

Chris Beaupre, 92, of Cloquet, was able to relate. "Mine [goes off] at quarter to 11," she said after calling -- during the day -- to commiserate. "I could almost set my clock by it."

When she answers the offending phone, she said, "Nobody would talk. All I could hear was music and it wouldn't last too very long and then it would stop and I'd hang up until the next night. And that was happening for, oh, quite a while. I didn't know what to figure. I didn't know what to do."

Me, either. Some nights my clockwork call wakes me up. At least once it startled one of my kids right out of bed.

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But perhaps my plight isn't as bad as what Mary Wright of Fargo, N.D., has had to put up with.

"I moved to a new city [in Wisconsin], and after getting my new phone number I heard from several friends and family that they had called and I wasn't there. My phone never rang," she wrote in an e-mail. "A new phone saved my relationships and sanity."

Rather than a new phone, a new number was needed to save nighttime tranquility for the mother of Janie L. Carlson of Grand Rapids. Her phone rang in the middle of every night -- and kept on ringing until the 80-something-year-old got up to get it.

"It sounded like a fax tone when she answered," Carlson wrote. "I had her 'star-69' one of her calls to get the number ... and I faxed a 'to whom it may concern' memo to the number, letting them know they were waking my mom up ... and to please stop.

"It turns out my mom's number had previously been a business number and the fax calls were for that," Carlson continued. "I spoke to the company representative ... and she said they'd stop sending to mom's number but that other companies were probably also using that number. A call to the telephone company netted a new number at no expense to Mom, but they couldn't guarantee a non-former busi-ness number. Fortunately, the new number has worked fine."

Carlson's e-mail ended with one of the many nuggets of advice I received, and appreciated, in the days following the publication of my previous column: "Since you only get one call at a certain time of the night, perhaps you could try identifying it yourself through 'star 69' and communicate your concerns with who/what ever comes up."

Good idea. I tried that this week, only to be greeted with one of those number-called-cannot-be-dialed recorded messages.

Tom Koehler of Two Harbors suggested several "tests" to figure out what was going on. One involved a new phone, but I hated the idea of parting with a machine that plays songs instead of ringing. Another involved "the point where the phone company wiring attaches [or] enters the house" and the "box" that's supposedly at that spot. I've never seen any such box, and it's too cold to go outside to look for one, but I kept reading: "Inside that box should be a standard phone jack. You can plug your Bucky Badger phone in there and see if it goes off at 11:07."

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What? Stand outside at 11 o'clock at night to see if "On Wisconsin" plays? Not even when the Badgers win the Rose Bowl, sir.

Then, finally, came an answer. Maybe. "Ours goes off at 10:27 every night, and I think I know why," Maura Goessling of Esko said. Like me, she assumed her house was the only one with this "peculiar" predicament.

"It started when Minnesota Power put us on a remote reader for our meter. That makes sense." A computer trying to read a meter remotely at the same time every day with a signal that inadvertently trips a phone. That did make sense. Except I don't have a remote reader at my house. And Goessling went on to say she has had Minnesota Power and telephone workers out to her house for other reasons, and "no one has ever 'fessed up to it.

"We haven't quite figured it out yet. We're just taking it as part of life in our house. It's not a haunting or a gremlin or anything." And, "you're not alone," she told me.

Apparently not. In all, I received 19 phone calls and e-mails about my nightly annoyance -- but not one of them from a phone company representative.

Chuck Frederick is the News Tribune's deputy editorial page editor. He can be reached at 723-5316 or at cfrederick@duluthnews.com .

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